Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Hey Congress, Start Blawging...and Podcasting...

Hey Congress, Start Blawging...and Podcasting...

The next revolution in American Government?

It's a great concept; one that seems to make sense on every front, except regarding practibility. I think it would be a valuable resource to have both national and state government officials blogging discussions and votes during the law-making process, but would Americans really want to sit-down and read a diary of everything that goes on? Already, C-Span has programming during the day that allows people to watch these sessions - though I'm not exactly sure if this programming is all-inclusive or if it is restricted to the omniscient "eye-in-the-sky" that the various political bodies can choose to close - and I couldn't imagine wasting a day to sit and watch. But, then again, these cameras are "objective," flies on the wall without any commentary by talking-heads or the actors/politicians - themselves.

But, then again, maybe if these politicians did add in their own observations and insights during these meetings, it would allow an almost forum-like atmosphere were constituents could see and hear how/why their elected official vote on specific issues. This might also keep the mystery surrounding American politics somewhat transparent. I couldn't tell you the names of all the Texas representatives in Washington D.C. nor could I even list ten of the most influential individuals that debate on these national/state floors every day. There are just too many names and states to keep up with. But by finding the select-few that I am aware of and reading their thoughts on everyone else, I would eventually be acclimated into this group, if only as a repeat tourist.

As far as the podcasting and linking all documents, I don't think I could ever force myself to listen to debates instead of my iTunes library or ever read the convoluded laws rather than a good book, but having all that information at my fingertips (without the hassle of FOIA requests or hours of internet research) would be a plus. If it's discussed and I want to know more, it would, however, be cool to have it linked within the body of the blog for easy reference.

Will this idea take off? Who knows, but I think it's definitely worth a shot. Thanks Blawg for info.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Networking v Networks

Proof positive that one thought always leads to another.

Sometimes I feel as if I have two personalities: one is the professional, Microsoft Outlook calender using persona, and the other, a Bohemian, artistic character looking to inspire others to not follow in my footsteps, but rather create their own.

I just posted a lengthy commentary on the end of television. No proof or validation, just an editorial on what I think about the future of the media: that is, the death of TV will come before the death of the newspaper. From one, professional, journalistic standpoint, I e-mailed and linked the major blogs that I referenced their sites in my commentary. I didn't do this to boost my Google rating or even my blogosphere presence, only to inform them that I used links to their sites - a common courtesy I think.

But, now that I've had time to marinate on the idea, I wonder how altruistic those e-mails were? Sure, I could justify them, but were they truly FYI e-mails? The question, alone, is questionable. But then again, is it?

For a couple of months I've been skeptical of the Internet; not as an entity, but as a news medium. But, now that I've linked my commentary to relatively unknown individuals hosting a relatively popular blog sites, I wonder how introverted I am, and how impersonal the web has become.

As far as blogs go, traffic numbers equate to future, financial freedoms. Some blogs are created solely to act as some sort of published diaries, others seek a stable income. My virgin blogs were initially created as a resume-builder - something published without an official byline. I didn't want a following like Instapundit or Drudge. Yes, I wanted readers, some return readers that would add my site to their RSS feeds, but I didn't want a collection of "regulars." I wanted to be one of those prized sites that people stumble across at 2:43 am, read until 4 am, and then forget about because they were too drunk to write down the address. But, if I took the time to e-mail everyone that I linked too, what would that say about my altruistic feelings/thoughts?

The truth is, people like seeing their names, even the anonymous screen names they imagine, in print and being referenced time and time again. Did I e-mail these people/sights as a result of respect or from a deeper urge to get discovered? Right now, I've had too much to drink to really, intelligently think-through that question. But, I do understand the consequences/perks of the latter.

The Internet, especially blogs, are mostly about networking: that is, getting in good with influential people that run influential blogs. It's networking on a global, yet anonymous, scale. When college grads mingle with university alum, how many copies of their resumes do they have readily accessible? Blogs are the same sort of deal, only a hard-copy is not required, just a good memory. If you can remember the exact internet address of your personal blog, then you can write it down whenever it's needed. Resumes/personal websites, they're becoming interchangeable.

I guess when it's all said and done (forgive the cliche phrases), I want people to see my stories/bylines as informational pieces of journalism with a hometown name easily found in the white pages and I want web/blog-surfers to see my screenname as a reliable trademark of independant insight. The two, however, should never become one. Blogger, Journalist - which has priority? I guess it's a good thing that I have two professional personalities after all.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Journalism, the American Dream, & the Red Convertible Cadillac

Are there more lazy, dishonest reporters working these days?

I graduated from college yesterday; the end of an eight-year membership in the Texas higher education system. Two degrees: Journalism and Creative Writing. Most people don't see the irony. I say beneficial, some say conflict of interest. I say tomAto, you say tomOto. I dream of two Pulitzer Prizes - best fiction, best news. Two people with little in common finding love and holding hands in our free society.

You want to know what the American Dream is? It's not about getting rich. It's not about having power and influence. It's going to bed every night anxious to wake up the next morning for another opportunity to live the waking dream. The American Dream is not tangible. It's a purpose - change the world, teach the children of the world how to read, save the environment - and it's the means - selling books, teaching high school English, riding the back of a garbage truck two days a week picking bags of trash off the curb - to the end of a solitary life.

My American Dream: inspire others to follow through with their dreams. My means: journalism. What it's not: money.

I knew from the beginning that Journalism is probably the third-most underpaid job (the first being teaching & the second being police work). And right now, a journalist's reputation is tainted by the flaws of those that came before him. Plagiarism, fictitious stories, public relations editorials, they all plague the tradition. David Shaw is right about many things in his LA Times article except for a few points.

First, New Journalism. In the late 19th century, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer authored the first New Journalism movement with sensational headlines, graphic photography, and embelleshed news and crime stories. It was a hit with the public like today's reality TV phenomenon. Real life with unbelievable twists and quirks. When Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson re-introduced New Journalism into the American society during the 60s and 70s, it was their narrative style that the people loved; writing fact, making it as readable as fiction. And the people ate that up. It made money. It sold magazines. And, in Journalism, the sad truth is that the bottom-line is the important factor. With 60% of every newspaper devoted to advertising, subscribers and newsstand buyers - those people we are writing for - don't pay enough.

How does the blogosphere play into all of this? Two ways. First, the New Journalism movement of the 60s and 70s emerged as the 1st person narrative style. Instead of the Voice of God reporting people were used to, these writers made sure the readers were aware that God had nothing to do with the story. Through the "I did this" and "I saw this" subjectivity, the readers saw the objective truth because they could see the writers and could see what the writers were seeing. The diary-like, unrestrained style of blogs stands in the shadow of the "pre-historic" media of the 60s and 70s. Only it's changed...It's real-time, interactive "reporting."

Second, the blogosphere gives the public its voice back. We're seeing a revolution between bloggers and journalists because, as Shaw states, journalists and editors alike have become too concerned with personal fame and the bottom-line to remember that the "media" is not an organization or corporation, it's the plural of "medium" - meaning the middle voice between John Q. Public and Big Business/Government.

Instead of trying to replace the media, though, bloggers are depending more heavily on Journalists. Bloggers link to stories by good journalists as a verification tool for the blogger's opinion/post to make the post and blogger credible. Unfortunately, a lot of journalists don't see this relationship. They only see the negative posts that focus on liberal bias, faulty reporting, and questionable facts. But even that's a plus. A journalist's first priority is accuracy. What's so wrong with having citizen fact-checkers? Nobody likes to have their work critiqued, even the editing process hurts when that personal-favorite transition phrase gets cut for space limitations, but when you write for the public shouldn't their take and expertise on a given story have at least some merit on the story? If a reporter is writing a story about a Supreme Court decision, wouldn't an ideal source be a laywer rather than another journalist (in the form of editor approval)?

Because of blogger impact, we are seeing a need for the improvment of industry-wide standards. Journalists are going to be held to higher benchmarks because of the blogger presence. So, I disagree with Shaw's final take on the future of journalistic ethics - I think journalism will get more reliable. There will be less fabrication and plagiarism because there will be more people fact-checking everything. How many times will a respectable newspaper have to fire employees for unethical practices before they decide standards need to be re-written?

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Huffington Post - Eat the Press

When I first heard about the new Huffinton Post site, I was skeptical. I misunderstood everything. Links are being posted everywhere - Blog Herald, Dan Gillmor, Romenesko, and Gawker (all feeds that I read daily, not to mention the countless others that I don't).

The power of blogs.

But, it wasn't until I saw John Cusack's name that I decided maybe I should check it out. After reading his Hunter Thompson tribute, I knew the Huffington Post would be part of my daily blog diet. But I almost did a backflip out of my tattered vinyl chair when I saw Harry Shearer's Eat the Press column.

I read the column twice - finally, another Media guru. But, something about it didn't settle in my stomach (it could've been the five cups of coffee I've had in the last two hours, but that's a different sort of unsettling). The word "media" sticks out like a copy of Playboy between two bibles. Shearer uses it exclusively to apply to news outlets. As a journalist, the word 'media' is as sacred to me as Pope is to Catholics.

The media are not simply newspapers, magazines, and television news programs - the media is a collection of information senders: books, movies, music; anything with a message intended for a mass audience. Unfortunately, the mass audience doesn't seem to know this, which is probably why the word is generally applied only to news outlets.

That being said...I'll be adding various Huffington links to my blogs and can't wait to read what tomorrow holds.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Low-Carb, Low-Freedom Diet for Citizen Journalists (Bloggers)

The Latest Rumbling in the Blogosphere: Questions About Ethics: "As blogs grow in readers and influence, bloggers should realize that if they want to reform the American media, that is going to have to include reforming themselves."

Ethics for bloggers? Why?

Adam Cohen's Op-Ed piece for the New York Times brings to light (again) a lot of issues journalists have been saying about bloggers since their significant emergence onto the media scene during the 2004 Presidential elections - bloggers are misleading their audiences and need some ethics guidelines. Maybe the "professional journalist" feels these guidelines are necessary, but those of us journalists on the up; those of us that have been raised on the benefits and distractions of the internet know that these proposed guidelines would violate everything the internet, now, stands for - free speech.

Now, I'm no card-carrying, ACLU member, but in regards to the internet, I definately think less government interference is better, especially where blogs are concerned because they are becoming a new cornerstone for the "marketplace of ideas" concept that journalism is founded upon. Not since the advent of American journalism during the pre-Revolutionary war period has there been such a medium as the Internet that allowed Joe Public such a loud voice.

Granted, the American public buys into a lot of things it shouldn't - reality TV being my most despised example - but, the American public is not stupid. Yes, they are suckers for advertising and niche-marketing strategies, but that's because we've become so efficient at such targeting such audiences that we're actually doing the public a favor. If Democrats didn't want to hear a liberally-biased news report they wouldn't be turning into CNN every morning while drinking their cup of coffee. Everything, even news, is becoming niche-based. As a journalist, this is discouraging (especially considering I've just dropped $25K on a journalism degree from a program that stresses the importance of objectivity), but it's the way of the beast: to make money in news or any entertainment industry, you have to satisfy the advertisers and they want to target a specific audience.

Got off on a tanget there...anyway, the American public may be easily distracted, but they are not stupid. They know what they want. If an individual is a liberal, then that person is more likely to log onto Daily Kos rather than Instapundit. The important factor is they don't care if Daily Kos is being sponsored by the DNC. They like their news slanted to the left.

Everything can be distorted. Stats and facts included. One side can pull strengths from a survey and the other can pull an oposing strength from the same information. If an issue really matters to an individual or to an entire society, people will do further research. That current human instinct is one they share with journalists, but only journalists are required to find supporting and opposing viewpoints. Journalists do it because the public expects them to do it. Journalists have trained the American public to think in the same manner.

In closing, Americans are proud. Very few readers of the New York Times see a bias in the paper because it's their local paper. That's where they get all their local news. The same goes for small towns as well. I think the role of the internet is to make available all-possible biases public. The role of the newspaper is be objective. That's what the general public expects. If we make blogs stick to ethical standards then we violate the freedom the Internet has to offer.

Revenge of the Nerds: In Online Poker, though, Who Are They?

So you want to play online poker?: "In the last 2 years, online poker has exploded to a multi-million dollar industry with tens of thousands of players on at all times, day or night. According to PokerPulse, a site which keeps track of the number of users on most major poker sites, the largest online cardroom had a peak of in excess of 40,000 real money players in the last 24 hours Well I've got a little secret for you. Half of them are idiots."

Now, I'm not going to sit here and delude myself that I'm Phil Helmouth or any other poker professional with reserved season tickets at any table at the World Poker Championships, but I have won and lost my fair share of Texas Hold 'Em hands. I played consistently with a regular group of five or six of my friends every Friday or Saturday night, usually until 2 or 3 in the morning. I guess like ADD, we were on the bandwagon before it became the common fad, but that's neither here nor there.

Usually, I'd lose my money, but it was the "quality" time with them that I enjoyed. And to be honest, it was a lot easier to justify losing $10 over the course of 5 hours than $15 to see a 2-hour movie, plus, there every time I sat down at the table there was the possibility that 'tonight' would be my night. And at first, that's exactly how I looked at; it wasn't necessarily knowing when to hold and when to fold, it was whether or not I had Lady Luck sitting on my shoulder sharing cigarettes with me. Eventually, I learned that luck has very little to do with it; most of it is about playing smart and playing confident. I joined PartyPoker.com and stayed up a few too many nights playing in those rooms, doing fairly well, but never playing real money - it was research, not profit that I was seeking at those tables.

Having a short-lived poker background, I thought I'd get an interesting insight into the "new" poker player from this Kuro5hin story...I did, just not the one I anticipated.

The tips were elementary, but with useful online links to various tips and tricks poker sites on the web. What was most interesting was the backlash of comments on the story. (background about Kuro5hin: every story that gets posted to the site must first sit in 'docked'-status; meaning that regular members and contributers will review every submission and then either give the story a thumbs-up or a death sentence. After a go-ahead vote, the story can then be posted on the site officially.) Back to my thoughts. Now, I didn't go through and read every comment and sub-comment on the story, but the consensus didn't so much disagree with the content of the story as the entire notion of online poker.

I guess all my life I've assumed the bulk of the American male civilization is dichotomous - either you're a jock or a nerd. By hiding away one night every weekend to play poker with my friends, I assumed that we were more nerd-like because we weren't like the alternative - that is going to the strip of bars and drinking and trying to get laid. When I ventured into the Party Poker scene, I thought I was just taking my nerd status to a more serious level, wanting to improve my game at the expense of my social life. To hear such negative feedback on the entire poker phenomenon in this story, I'm starting to see an even greater separation: even the nerds are split about poker.

The language usage in the negative commentary is almost identical to the insults I used to make on the 'frat'-type - following a status quo, the mainstream idealogies, and mindless neanderthals doing the exact same things they did after standing upright for the first time: trying to boost their egos by pounding their chests. Part of this animosity stems from not having enough sex during high school and seeing all the girls I had crushes on dating varsity football and basketball players. Now, it appears, I am, or was at least, a member of that same tribe...still, I can't get a date. What gives?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Kansas Board of Education Much Less Evolved Than Previously Thought, Says Researcher

"In fact, some of these people have actually devolved during the 80 years since the Scopes Monkey trial," says Bill Thornton, chief DNA specialist with the National School Board Evolution Analysis Project." - from Blogcritics

Blogcritics and Kottke may have discovered the roots of our strong partisan society.

The two blogs have posted three science-related articles that could explain larger, recurring themes. First, Kottke posted this article by the BBC reporting the discovery of 12 new moons around Saturn. Then, there's the Evolution-trial controversy in Kansas (link to the Washington Post). Then, Kottke posted this article from the New Scientist stating that public opinion among other things are all bi-products of magnetism.

My take. Tying the three together.

Saturn now has more moons, or rather, now we know Saturn has more moons. I don't know if it's humanly possible for their gravitational pull to reach us, but let's pretend. Now, the Kansas State Board of Education wants to remove Darwin's Theory of Evolution completely from the curriculum. This isn't necessarily new; Evolution has been a hot-button issue in high schools across the nation, but most seem willing to teach it, at least, as a possible alternative to the Creation Theory. Two completely unrelated topics save for their connection with science, right? Now, consider the article by the New Scientist that states imitation - thus public opinion - like magnetism, is a survival instinct. On issues such as Evolution v Creation and Pro-life v Pro-choice, there is no public consensus. In fact, the public is almost split evenly. If the study regarding imitation is correct, or at least viable, then those on both sides of a dichtomomy will fight to "survive."

Republican:Democrat. Liberal:Conservative. Christian:Atheist. The large line of distinction between two, highly-charged viewpoints is only going to get larger if we keep finding more moons. Maybe we should give up the space program. I don't know how much more division we can take before another Civil or World War breaks out.

Amazon, SIPS, and Digital Customer Service

Judging a Book by Its Contents: "Amazon.com's Statistically Improbable Phrases aren't just a parlor game that condenses a book to its very essence. They're also a way to move curious readers through the retailer's vast catalog. By Ryan Singel." From Wired Online

Amazon is now using del.icio.us and flickr tagging technology to attract more online book shoppers. It seems that being the largest online book distributer and the only site both parents and kids can discuss around of plate of pork chops and mashed potatoes isn't enough for Amazon. By applying tags to books utilizing common words found within the text and familiar, generic plot descriptions, shoppers will essentially be able to google-search any book in Amazon's inventory for a specific subject-matter.

Amazon starts it; it won't be long before other online shopping sites will begin doing the same, ultimately discouraging people from leaving their homes for the lure of department store sales and interraction.

In my commentary for Eyebrow Esquire, I referenced another Wired article about how advances in technology such as video games and the Internet are actually making us smarter. With all these advances, mostly in the realm of the World Wide Web, it seems that we're forgetting the importance of human interraction. With the wealth of knowledge available on the internet, what reason can there be for us to go out and meet new people. I'm fearful that technology may be the end of civilization - not in the conspiracy-theory or Matrix sense, but in the context that we're moving away from physical interaction into one via computer connections.

Now more than ever, kids keep in touch with parents through e-mail and cell phones, but what happened to talking about your day at work or school around a table at dinnertime - not to mention the social revolution happening on university campuses around the nation (it's hard to introduce yourself while walking between classes if everyone is talking on their cell phones). I'm not calling for the end of the Internet or anything of the sort; I'm simply hoping people do not forget that a real sunset is much better seen when you're outside on your front porch.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Logging On, Tuning Out, and Turning Away

I am an information glutton, and so are you.: "They say we're living in the Information Age. I think they're right - whoever 'they' are.

"The Truth is Out There" - now it's easier to find than ever before.

The Internet connects millions, allows hand-holding to span across oceans and entire continents, and shares information that would otherwise be buried inside dusty boxes - forgotten and overlooked. In its simplest form, the Internet re-defines the maxim, "one man's trash is another man's treasure."

But what's in the trash bag by the curb and who does it belong to? The Internet can ultimately make anything, private or otherwise, a product of the public domain. We have become so dependant on computers for information storage that a life without them almost seems archaic, though still imaginable because our grandparents remember just such a time.

My grandparents live in small Texas town and still sleep with their doors unlocked and windows open. They know every neighbor, dog, and vehicle in a 10-mile radius of their country home. My grandparents know who has access to them. Computer users know their personal lives aren't necessarily secure, but they assume someone else is locking everything safely away, even though they have no idea who that 'someone else' is.

We trust our Anti-Virus programs and passwords; we flex these muscles in the mirror every time we make an online bill payment. What happened to knowing the mailman's name? What happened to trusting someone after getting to know them? What happened to the handshake?

Don't get me wrong, I depend on the net just as much as everyone else - it's a world of information that would be difficult to live without, but it's not the entire world. It keeps me in touch with my friends and family as well as what's going on elsewhere on this giant rock, but information is not always written in HTML or captured in JPEGs. I could never know what my grandfather went through while he served in Korea or what my grandmother did while he was away just by double-clicking a few icons on my computer.

The Internet...Bringing Us Together, Tearing Us Apart

I sit in a dilapidated vinyl office chair, the glare of my laptop lights half my bedroom, an orb of green light glows behind me from the desk lamp attached to my wooden waterbed frame. The bed takes up three-fourths of my bedroom. The gap between its foot and my desk is just large enough for my office chair. It's like a booth in a dark piano bar.

Nirvana plays in front of me, just on the other side of my smoking ashtray. If I close my eyes, I can hear Kurt Cobain inhaling and exhaling onto the microphone. That's all close it all seems right now - the past, the present and the future.

I think of my first weeks spent wired into AOL and the Internet. Almost a decade later, I recognize the past in the LCD light and multi-media concert. That was when I met my first internet relationship. She was in a serious relationship and I was still young enough to believe I could stick around too see it come to a head or spill over. Months later, she was single and I was in a relationship. The years disappeared between us; strung together by the wires connecting our drives.

She represents one of my longest and closest relationships in part because we are so far apart. We don't talk - chat - online anymore, neither of us has the time. We prefer to talk on the phone, when we can be living our separate lives and still converse as if we were sharing a Denny's booth at 3 a.m. The time-zone buffer allows us this proximity.

In less than two months, we will breathe the same Texas air. We will see the same clouds and will finally be able to argue their shapes face-to-face, and that scares the hell out of me. At this very minute, she could be feeling the same. She could be sitting in front of her computer wondering how a relationship grew out womb of technology to forge the long distances of time and computer upgrades.

It has been a relationship of trust because it could not be built on anything else. There was no physical attraction; no love-at-first-sight; no shy games of strategic avoidance. All we had - all we have is our conversation, our interest in one another and are wireless connection. In less than two months, we will stand on 6 years of truly knowing one another and wonder what to say first.

The CD has stopped playing.

Just two glowing lights and I'm alone in my bedroom staring at my computer screen again wondering what to type next. Kurt Cobain is dead; I put in another CD, and file Nirvana away. I have all them; filed by production date. I remember I was in high school when I first heard Smells Like Teen Spirit and wore my first plaid shirt. It's been years since I listened to any of them; I'd forgotten how much they meant to me. I put on Come As You Are and try to remember my life before I really cared about anyone.

Internet Reflections

Article One on the Internet